“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound (sober) judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3)
Romans 12:1–2 calls us to grateful worship and total surrender of our lives to God and His will in response for all that He has done for us (seen in chapters 1 through 11 – the Gospel). This is the same response Jesus calls us to as seen in the first part of the great commandment: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29-30)
The second part of the great commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31) and this begins with a “sober” (KJV) judgment of ourselves rather than to think more highly (hyperphroneō) of ourselves than we ought to think. So our worship (Romans 12:1) is seen primarily in relationships; in the way we love God and the way we love our neighbor or love others. Before Paul teaches on the variety (but not exhaustive list) of spiritual gifts (vv. 3-8) in this chapter he wants us to know that the motive of our heart (love of God and others) is far more important than the use of our spiritual gifts. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
The Bible doesn’t talk about low self-esteem; the Bible warns us over and over again about high self-esteem or pride. Self-denigration is just another form of self-focus. “I should be better, do better, etc.” Humility is self-forgetfulness not self-loathing. It comes as a by-product of our focus on God and others. So the first thing we need to do to worship God properly and serve others, both Christians and non-Christians, is to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. And since we are born with pride and the world, the devil, and our flesh are filled with pride, this is no easy task. In fact, it is only by the grace of God that we can think “soberly” about ourselves. Thus Paul begins this exhortation and command by extolling the grace of God given to him rather than pulling rank as an apostle and teacher: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you.” And note, this sin applies to “everyone.”
Paul uses the Greek word for ‘think’ Phroneō or a form of it, four times in this one verseso let’s take a close look at what it means and how it can help us think rightly about ourselves. [“Phroneō – to have an opinion of one’s self, think of one’s self, to be modest, not let one’s opinion (though just) of himself exceed the bounds of modesty.” http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G5252&t=KJV]
The first use of this word is seen in a negative way: “not to think more highly of himself than he ought” – seen in the Greek word hyperphroneō – “to think more highly of one’s self than is proper.” http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G5252&t=KJV] We are not to have a hyper opinion about ourselves.
And the last use of it is Sōphroneō “to be of sound mind; to be in one’s right mind; to exercise self control; to put a moderate estimate upon one’s self.”http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G5252&t=KJV] The KJV uses the word ‘soberly’ rather than sound judgment. In other words, we are drunk or out of our mind when we think too highly of ourselves. This insanity is clearly seen in how the angelic creature Lucifer (Satan) thought he was greater than God His Creator and then breathed that lie into human creatures from Adam and Eve onward. (See Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28, and Genesis 3.) In his book, Humility Andrew Murray says that “humility is the soil from which all Christian graces grow and the indispensable condition for true fellowship with Jesus. It is unceasing dependence on God and total submission to God. All wars and bloodshed among nations, all selfishness and suffering, all ambitions and jealousies, all broken hearts and broken homes, all unhappiness, is the result of the wicked pride of Satan and fallen man, the first Adam, and can only be changed through salvation and surrender to the life of Christ – the Second Adam. We must deplore pride and fear it as our # 1 enemy which only Christ can conquer in us as we yield our lives to His Lordship.” (Murray) “He therefore only fights the good fight who fights the self-idolatrous nature which all men have received from Adam and can only be brought to death by surrender to the supernatural humility of Jesus.” (William Law)
[“A dog may look at you and think, ‘You feed me, you pet me, you shelter me, you love me — You must be god!” On the other hand a cat can look at you and say, ‘You feed me, you pet me, you shelter me, you love me — I must be god!” — You see, they both look at the same information, but because of their self-centered or master-centered attitudes, they come to totally different conclusions!” http://www.catndogtheology.com/]
Finally, the word Phroneō implies a mindset, a fixed attitude we have about ourselves apart from salvation and ongoing renewing of our mind through Scripture.
“As God has allotted to each a measure of faith” – This does not mean saving faith but it is only after we are saved that we can receive spiritual and supernatural gifts (charis) from God to use for His glory as we love and serve others. ”Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (Romans 12:6)
Even our natural abilities are given to us by God and only have spiritual value when used in dependence upon His power and for His glory. [“I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” Eric Henry Liddell (16 January 1902 – 21 February 1945) was a Scottish athlete, rugby union international player, and missionary. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Liddell]
God gives gifts to us so we can reveal an invisible God through visible (manifestations) of His love and power. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:4-7)
The way to deal with thinking too highly of ourselves is ultimately to know that everything comes from God; our very existence, our deliverance from eternal punishment, all of our giftedness, both natural and supernatural gifts and to give Him all the glory for everything.“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31) “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, (i.e., a spiritual gift from God) why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7) And as Paul has already told us in the preceding verse this way of thinking can only come and will only come as we regularly and continually “renew our minds” to see the glory of God and ourselves in relation to Him.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:3-8)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1) “We must deplore pride and fear it as our # 1 enemy which only Christ can conquer in us as we yield our lives to His Lordship.” (Murray) “He therefore only fights the good fight who fights the self-idolatrous nature which all men have received from Adam and can only be brought to death by surrender to the supernatural humility of Jesus.” (William Law) Do you deplore your pride? Do you fear your pride as the # 1 enemy of your soul, of your happiness?
2) The disciples had left all to follow Jesus, were casting out demons, healing the sick and preaching the kingdom of God but still lacked humility. After Jesus’ teaching and modeling humility to them for three years they were still arguing over who was the greatest during the Last Supper: “Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” (Luke 22:24) Do you desire the humility of Jesus more than spiritual gifts, business or ministry success or the good life in general? Why or why not?
3) How are “cat theology” and the prosperity gospel similar?
4) We cannot cast out pride. How does God (Scripture) tell us to deal with it? (Romans 12:2, Hebrews 12:2; Phil. 2:3-8)